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Aether Beasts

Chapter 29 - 29

Chapter 29 - 29

"Aiden, good to see you," Lucas greeted me as I entered the camp, or what had been the camp. Everything was mostly packed or in the process of being packed and loaded into the caravans. What was interesting were the large square objects covered in runes. We"d learned about them in class but seeing them was different. They were essentially large storage devices, full of far more space than a simple ring. To store something, all you had to do was press your hand which would form a connection then focus and will the object you wanted to move into the storage object. To get something out you did the same thing but instead, you thought of the object you wanted and it would appear next to you or in your hand if it was small enough.

"You don"t have any bags?" Lucas commented then he noticed the ring on my right hand. "Oh a storage ring, I don"t remember seeing you with that."

"A goodbye gift from my aunt," I replied, looking around. "Where do we sit?"

"Oh we don"t," He said. "Well I suppose you could ask, but we normally just walk alongside. The only way you would be allowed into the caravans is either if you have paperwork to do, are injured, or are an elder."

That didn"t really matter much to me. At the first level of infusion, I could walk pretty much indefinitely, and it"s not like I needed space for anything, although I was eager to test out my new spacial abilities. Zirani had said she herself was getting used to them which was odd since she was in my core, but she"d explained that since it was her who had essentially mutated she knew them or at least the basics.

"Come on, we"re up at the front with the elder," Lucas said. "He wants to talk to you about a few things before we reach Orton."

"How long will it take?"

He shrugged. "Maybe a week? We"ll be traveling with the merchant caravans usually alongside the twin horn but they left early, probably disgraced by their defeat."

It took only another hour before everything was ready and caravans began to move. They started down the southern path that bordered the forest. It was all quite organized with groups walking alongside each caravan, some holding weapons while others scanned the surroundings. People talked and joked, still high off yesterday"s victory.

"Morale seems good," I commented to Elder Samuel who was walking beside me up next to the first steel heart caravan. In front of us was a merchant caravan with its own guards.

"Of course, yesterday"s victory means good things and we won"t have to return to Orton with bad news."

He turned to Sandra. "Did you retrieve the map I asked for?"

She nodded and pulled out a folded map which she handed to the elder.

"I asked you to walk with me today because there are things you must be aware of before we arrive in Orton. As I"m sure you"ve noticed we are in conflict with the twin horn sect."

"That was obvious, but I was under the impression it"s always been like that," I said.

"It had but never to this degree," He replied. "Only a year ago it was just the occasional skirmish and mostly friendly rivalry and competition. We used each other to improve our own disciples, but things have taken a rather nasty turn. Tell me, what do you know of aether towers?"

"The basics," I answered. "There are large tower-like structures which are bigger on the inside. They have multiple floors which can vary from a maze to an entire forest or desert and are full of aether beasts, and rare resources. Oh, and at the final floor is the tower guardian which if defeated will cause the tower to collapse, usually over a period of a few days."

"Very good," he said. "It seems your town taught you well. Well, what you say is true but it isn"t just that. An aether tower is a very valuable resource to a sect because as long as you don"t defeat the tower guardian it can stay standing for years. The sources can be farmed as can the aether beasts and their cores for essence. Not just that but the area around a tower also benefits, with kor crystals mines commonplace alongside powerful herbs and other natural treasures."

That I didn"t know. I knew aether towers were valuable but if what the elder was saying was true then you can build a sect up from one.

"There is a tower close to Orton, controlled by the city and usable by everyone per the agreement made when it first emerged over ten years ago after the last fell. It"s a decent tower and provides quite a lot of resources for the city, but time has made it less valuable. The herbs and plants cover the markets and can be bought almost anywhere. The cores aren"t particularly varied with fire being the most common affinity, paired with the fact everyone can use it, it had tipped the balance of anything."

"So what"s the conflict about then?" I asked.

"A new tower emerged not one year ago," He said. "Farther away from Orton with new kinds of resources, a more varied types of beasts and cores for the taking. I take it you can guess what happened."


He nodded solemnly. "War. At first, we were open to a truce to treat this new tower as we did the old one, but the twin horn sect did not share that sentiment. They tried to take the tower, sending a large force out to surround and capture it but one of our spies within their sect alerted us and we managed to rout them. What occurred next was a full-blown battle that left both sides crippled. Afterward, an uneasy truce was made, a simple agreement to keep conflict to the area around the tower and not the city. Of course, those rules are broken when they can be, and assassinations and killings have risen in Orton."

"It"s a stalemate," Lucas added. "They push, we defend, we push, they defend. Sometimes there will be a battle but it"s mostly skirmishes, raids, and ambushes."

Samuel nodded. "We"re losing disciples at an alarming rate."

"And so you"ve extended recruitment," I said, realization dawning over me. "Is that what I am to be? A soldier?"

I couldn"t keep the bite out of my voice, but the elder didn"t look angry. He had an understanding look on his face.

"Aiden if they gain that tower then they will control Orton and all the towns and villages in the area, including West Vale. Do you want people like them in charge, doing as they like? They started the conflict."

As much as I wanted to not believe his words and be angry, I couldn"t because the thought of someone like Ewin or Jason in charge of West Vale made me want to puke. I"d seen what they were like, and the trouble they caused. Taking what they wanted, not paying, fighting, bullying.

"Don"t misunderstand, Aiden," The elder said. "I won"t force you into it, that"s not the type of sect we are, but those that fight are greatly rewarded, and we make sure they know why they fight. There are people in the steel heart who have family and friends in villages and towns all around Orton and in the city, what do you think would happen to them if we lose? If the twin horn gets their hands on the tower?"

Family, that was something I understood, wanting to fight to keep someone else alive. I would do it for my aunt and my friends. What would have happened if they hadn"t come to my town? Would I have remained oblivious and then one day the twin horn would just take over? I was already planning to go to Orton but what if I had made the mistake of joining the twin horn, what if I had headed for another city and a different sect elsewhere, and the twin horn won and I returned to find the people of West Vale under their rule.

"I understand," I said.

"Good, this isn"t what you wanted to hear, but it is what you needed to hear. We cannot let them win or they will turn into tyrants to rule all over this part of the plains and then only one of the greater sects could stop them."

"My family lives in Orton," Lucas said. "Do you know what the twin horn does to their weaker female disciples?"

Sandra turned her gaze away, her fists clenched and shaking.

"They turn them into concubines and bed warmers," Lucas finished. "That"s the type of people they are. They drug them, use mind-altering techniques among other things to make them compliant and to make them enjoy it."

The last words were spoken with pure hatred behind them.

"I don"t want that for my sister or my mother because that"s what they will do. The city won"t stop them, in fact, the twin horn will probably take it if they win."

"We all have things on the line," Samuel said. "Don"t forget that, Aiden. War is unpleasant but sometimes it is necessary."

We fell into silence after that and my mind whirled with dark thoughts and possibilities as we left West Vale behind and headed to the city of Orton.

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